The best restaurants in the world apply psychology to every aspect of their business, including the look and feel of their menus. Behavioural economics, the science of applying psychological insights into human behaviour to explain or influence economic decision-making, is used liberally to influence the food and drink that diners purchase.
The choice between having the medium-priced steak or the cheaper chicken dish is commanded by everything from the colours on the menu to the descriptions given, the position of the prices and the order in which items appear. Visit a successful, restaurant chain and you will likely find its menus designed to maximise spend and nudge diners towards specific menu items. This is something any independent restaurant, pub or hotel of any size can easily replicate.
These days people are looking for convenient and faster food choices – it’s one reason pre-ordering food online (or via a mobile app) for delivery or collection is popular with consumers and why more independent venues and small chains are investing in the technology. But how does the layout and design of a physical menu, held and mulled over in-house, compare to that of one accessed through an app? Can the same behavioural economics be used there?
On the surface a mobile app and a physical menu are armchairs and beanbags; items that serve the same purpose but which look and are treated very differently. Visiting a restaurant for a three course meal, customers would feel cheated if they found themselves in and out within 45 minutes. Ordering a meal for delivery online, they’d be annoyed if the whole process took any longer.
Despite their differences, and the contrasting requirements of customers at the time of use, many rules relevant to the psychology of standard menu design do apply, and can be transferred to mobile ordering platforms. Decoy Dishes
When checking a menu, consumers regularly check the prices before the food itself. How those costs appear is key and a range of prices should be presented. It is important to place an expensive item close to the top of the menu, adjacent to one the restaurant is most keen to push. The contrast between the two items will make the cheaper one seem more affordable than it might alone.
Don’t leave the price of the expensive item too far from others on the menu, there should be a scattering of dishes priced at the higher end of acceptable for the target clientele. These costs will suggest higher food quality, and, by being cheaper than the big ticket item, the customer is more likely to select them.
As with cost, size matters; consumers are looking to achieve the best possible deal.
Offering meals in two sizes suggests a discount, and this can lead to an increase in sales. Choosing the smaller portion might make the customer feel they’ve saved money, but, the larger item will make them feel they are getting a lot more for just a small increase in spend.
It’s good to offer size options, but the number of dishes on display should be limited. Why? Because of a phenomenon known as the ‘paradox of choice’; when given too many options, humans can panic and refuse to make any decision at all.
It is said that the optimum number of dishes is seven, but that’s not enough for many restaurants. An easy way to get around this is to split the choices into categories. Add a section of seven ‘Starters’, seven ‘Mains’ or seven ‘Fish Dishes’ to present an expansive menu without scaring the customer.
Images are always important, and a nice-looking picture, placed alongside the described dish, goes a long way to pushing a sale. Gregg Rapp, a professional menu designer is noted for saying that attractive images, associated with a food items, increase sales by 30 percent. It’s a significant amount and therefore worth the investment in quality photography.
I can’t emphasise enough how simple the science of menu design can be. Each and every one of these suggestions is easy to implement, all that’s needed is some time spent strategising menu layout. You don’t need to bring in external consultants or have a huge budget, just follow the steps above and you’ll see your average basket size soar.
Mark joined Preoday as Director of Strategic Solutions in 2017 to assist clients in developing their strategies and roll-out plans for digital pre-order and loyalty. With 20 years’ experience in strategy consultancy and corporate advisory, his previous roles include Director at GSMA, a global organisation representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide.
Having worked extensively with entrepreneurs, corporates, PE and VC firms and governments across a range of sectors including hospitality, telecoms and cleantech, Mark has a deep understanding of vertical and horizontal technology markets.
Mark has an MSc from Imperial College, London in Environmental Technology and a degree in Engineering from Exeter College, Oxford University.